What picture of the disciples comes across to us as we read the Gospels? How often do they not seem a group of self-centred men, in with Jesus just for their own benefit?
Each one tries to edge the other out. Each one resents the favours Jesus shows to another. They lobby for their own little coterie, their clan, their village, hoping that when Jesus comes into his Kingdom, they – not anyone else — will get it all.
They were thrilled when Jesus gave them power to expel demons. They were flattered to have the crowds hang on their words – but immediately resented anyone else sharing these ‘magical’ powers.
This passage explains what happened when the Twelve noticed a rank outsider actually “casting out devils in your name — but as he is not one of us, we tried to stop him!”
Jesus will have nothing to do with such exclusivism. Earlier, he has spoken of “sound trees bearing good fruit.” Even earlier he has praised the faith of pagan officials as greater than that of his own Jewish compatriots.
Jesus chides his disciples: “Anyone who is not against you is on your side.” Being ‘on my side’ – Jesus explains – is not a matter of what uniform you wear, but rather what values your heart reveals in the acts you perform.
In this line, the model for discipleship is the child. “The greatest is the least”, says Jesus. To love and care for the lowliest, the most insignificant, makes one the greatest person. To accept the lowliest and most insignificant in the name of Jesus makes one truly great, for such a one accepts not just Jesus but God who sent him.